Executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s, according to this Harvard Business Review article. And that only accounts for the meetings that actually make it onto the schedule.
The authors of the article surveyed nearly 200 senior managers across industries and found some disappointing, but probably not surprising, statistics: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work; 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient; and 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
So how do you stop the meeting madness? Before scheduling your next team pow-wow, consider these tips:
Define the purpose.
Sometimes meetings are just a result of status quo. A weekly project update meeting is scheduled because that’s what you’ve always done—not because it adds value.
Look at the next meeting on your schedule and scrutinize it. Question it. Why do you need this meeting? Who needs to be a part of the meeting? What will each person attending contribute? What would be a successful outcome of this meeting? Could that outcome be achieved just as easily via email?
Another important question is, “How much time do you really need for the meeting?” Most meetings tend to be scheduled for an hour—but they could really take less than 30 minutes if attendees are focused and prepared.
Find the best time for the meeting.
Think about the natural ebb and flow in your business. If customer service says they receive an influx of phone calls on Friday afternoons, make sure you aren’t scheduling meetings at that time. If your sales team likes to take customers for lunch, avoid meetings directly before and after the lunch hour.
You can even consider designating a day of the week or time of the day as off limits for meetings. This lets your team know that any work that requires their full focus or a sense of momentum will not be interrupted on “No Meeting Tuesdays.”
Another option is having a mandatory 10-minute daily team huddle, which spreads meeting time out more manageably across the whole week. And with just 10 minutes (set a timer if you have to), it’s much easier to get right down to business.
Prepare—and follow—an agenda.
If you have a clear idea of why the meeting should happen and who should participate, it should be fairly simple to create a meeting agenda. Send it to everyone ahead of time so they can make notes, brainstorm questions and know how to prepare for their part.
When the meeting begins, view your role as a facilitator instead of just a collaborator. Start and end the meeting on time (set a timer to help you keep track). Go through each item on the agenda and make a note of any sidebar topics that need to be addressed outside of the meeting at a later time.
Also, set clear expectations for meeting behaviors, like being prompt and prepared and staying on task. Follow up with individual meeting participants when these expectations are not being met.
Identify next steps.
Most successful meetings will have several actionable ideas. Make notes on the agenda as to what each action step is and who is responsible. Send the meeting notes to everyone on the team at the meeting’s conclusion so they can double-check to make sure they know what action item they own.